by Gwenda Bond
The next morning Hel and I get in his car, scarfing our microwave faux-meat breakfasts, ignoring each other. Only today, I’m just pretending to ignore him.
"Hel," I say, easing into it. "You could tell Mom and Dad to listen to me, right?"
Hel cranes his neck to watch the street as he backs his tiny sports car onto the road. "I could tell them to go to Mars too. They don’t do everything I say."
"But they listen to you."
"Exactly. Because they know I won’t tell them things that don’t make sense."
"Hel. . ."
"Yes," he says, wary.
"Do you think they know about us?"
He speeds up, zips out to pass a car and even though I feel the need to tell him to slow down, I don’t. He’d just tell me nothing’s going to happen.He’d be right. He slows down anyway once he gets around the car.
"No," he shakes his head. "They don’t know anything."
We agree on that, at least. "But, if they don’t know, why do they listen to you? And why do they ignore me?"
"Because you’re cursed, Cassie," he says.
"But why? I never turned down the sun god. I’d be more than happy to sleep with freaking Apollo if it would make things easier,even if he was a crusty old geezer."
"Don’t ever talk about who you’d do in front of me again, okay?" He adds, "And don’t tell me you believe in Apollo."
"No! Well, not really. But how else do you explain it? If that part isn’t real, we don’t make any sense."
"I don’t know," he says. "You could talk to Mom and Dad. Sometimes I think maybe there are patterns in nature that get triggered or whatever. Maybe we’re the result of something like that."
I sigh. "That answer right there? That would be a vague and unsatisfying as hell answer. Is that really the best you’ve got? Patterns? Talk to Mom and Dad?"
Hel whips the car into the school parking lot, angles us into his usual space. "You hate me." He opens his door. "What do you expect?"
"Come up with something else," I say. "Something I can change."
I climb out of the car and we stare at each other. My request for a favor hangs between us. I have never asked Hel for anything before today. It hurts.
Hel frowns, assuming a serious tone. "Cassie, you can’t obsess about this. I’m not sure there can be change."
Hel’s slacker friends show up and I lose his attention. The one with overgrown sideburns checks me out in a way that makes me want to dose him with poison.I take off, clutching my books like they’re a chastity belt.
* * * * *
I’m sitting in biology, alone, always alone — I don’t talk to people — when this girl Jude talks to me.
"Your name’s Cassie, right?" Jude says. She leans over her desk. "Did you do the homework on organic compounds?"
Of course, I did. I consider whether to answer. The thing is, Jude’s freaky in a way I get. She doesn’t seem to travel in a pack of other girls. Her favorite color appears to be black.She can avoid anything with her trusty pair of ear buds. I like her, from a distance, anyway.
I extend her my homework. I’m doomed no matter what, right? Jude grins and takes the pages from me. She casually copies my results into her notebook.
"Thanks, dude," she says, giving me back my homework.
"De nada," I say.
One small, contained social interaction completed. That wasn’t so bad. I give her my best smile. I smooth my palms over the paper.
Jude falls in love with a boy she shouldn’t. I recognize him —his name is Jax. He’s a senior, older than us, and from one of the richer families in town. He has greasy black hair that barely covers his big ears.His big eyes seem friendly when they’re wide and he’s smiling at Jude at her locker, but he doesn’t stay wide and smiling.
They’re at Mel’s Diner in New Corazon together, laughing over 1950s–esque cheeseburgers and milkshakes. Then, they’re together in the darker light of his car.Closer. And closer. She kisses him, but he wants more. She doesn’t see what’s coming. But she says no. She says no again. She says it over and over, but the thing that Jax turns into in the dark, in his car, alone with her?
That thing doesn’t care. It hurts her. He hurts her. Then he’s himself again, apologizing even while she sobs with too much black eyeliner running down her cheeks. She bolts from the car and into her house and he watches after her.He smiles to himself, quietly. This will not happen just once. He has a taste for her. Things will get worse when he loses that taste.
I see all this like a movie of her life. My fingers shake when I lift them off the paper.
Jude’s dyed red hair hides her face as she studies the graffiti on her desk. The chemistry hag snaps her fingers to get the class’s attention. I feel sick.